No, this is not a scene from a Hollywood horror movie, although we don’t blame you if you were thinking that.
This image is actually the result of a truck that was carrying live hagfish overturning and covering passing cars in bucket loads of slime.
The incident happened in 2017 on an Oregon (USA) highway when the truck transporting the hagfish, also known as the slime eel, crashed and it’s load was dispersed over multiple vehicles.
The hagfish is a scavenger fish and it has the unique ability of being able to produce copious amounts of slime in seconds. The slime rapidly expands in combination with seawater creating huge volumes.
The purpose of the slime is for protection against predators. If the hagfish is under threat is produces the slime which can clog the gills of predator fish causing them to suffocate. The milky, fibrous slime is even effective in defending against sharks due to the high volume of it. It’s such a brutal defence mechanism that most marine predators have learnt to leave the hagfish alone.
The slime also allows hagfish to mark their territory and claim ownership of food. When they find a dead carcass of a whale they will cover it in slime to let all other scavengers know that’s it’s theirs.
Surprisingly, the hagfish is a delicacy in some Asian countries, including South Korea. The fish itself is rarely eaten as it has quite a nasty aftertaste, but the slime can be used in cooking in the same way that egg whites are used. In order to produce large quantities of slime, the hagfish are kept in containers and occasionally irritated by hitting the container with a stick.
The hagfish involved in the Oregon crash were on their way to South Korea. The motion of the trailers would have been enough to agitate them quite a bit during the transportation, so their containers would have most likely been full with slime before the accident. The crash itself would have agitated them even more resulting in such a vast amount of slime being released.
Scientists have recently been looking into the properties of the slime to see if it could be used to produce silk. When Canadian researchers from the University of Guelph investigated, they were able to dry it out to produce a stretchy, silky substance.
It’s thought that one day hagfish slime may end up being used instead of Kevlar in bulletproof armor, and as a replacement to nylon and spandex in clothing.